For those of us who’ve grown tired of the sight of what decorates our homes after months of COVID-induced isolation, the Chico Art Center is providing an opportunity to enjoy fresh local art on virtual walls. For January, the gallery produced two group exhibits—Birds of a Feather and the 2021 Member Showcase—and both remain online via its website (chicoartcenter.com).
The center has incorporated software (from Kunst Matrix) that allows the online browser to take a guided tour through a 3-D virtual gallery that is easily navigated with a few clicks of a mouse. There is also the option to skip the tour and click on individual thumbnails of the works arranged in columns. The same labels and notes are attached to each piece for both options.
As its introduction explains: “Birds of a Feather celebrates birds as a symbol of freedom and community, as well as the artists’ power to delight. This was an open call for artwork of all media by Northern California artists.” There is also an accompanying recording of a nearly 90-minute-long video from a Zoom reception for the exhibit during which participating artists discuss their techniques and motivations.
The quality of the virtual gallery images is high, but there is the slight drawback that the images can’t be enlarged to full-screen, so some finer detail is potentially lost. However, this can be sidestepped by scrolling below to the static images posted under the virtual tour window. Clicking on these individual works and opening in a new tab allows for a much more magnified version of the art.
It’s worthwhile, especially when viewing something as striking and full of detail as photographer Richard Baldy’s “Turkey Vulture,” a black-and-white photograph that is offered “free with $200 donation to Chico Housing Action Team or Friends of Bidwell Park.” The vulture is shown in mid-preening session, feathers ruffled to exhibit the many layers, varying textures and subtle tonal qualities of its plumage. Set against a clouded sky while perched on a gnarly broken branch, one of the vulture’s eyes gazes back at the viewer as the bird tucks its beak into breast feathers. As a sort of memento mori, the piece delivers a beautiful, if somewhat chilling reminder of the beauty of nature’s recycling system.
There are 50-plus images in the exhibit. In addition to being moved by Baldy’s striking vulture, I also enjoyed the whimsical fantasy collages of Corla Bertrand, especially “Venus,” in which a golden-crowned snowy egret flies above a blue, oceanic landscape accompanied by other wrought gold figures, including the titular character, who is riding a golden chimera.
This year’s Members Showcase celebrates Chico Art Center’s 65th year by presenting works by artists who support the organization through active memberships. The variety of pieces in the show demonstrates the multiplicity of talents, techniques and formats practiced and produced by the members.
Exhibit-sponsoring artist Cris Guenter’s digital oil piece “Levee” was done, according to the artist’s online description, “in fall 2020 in Wildwood Park in Chico, looking east across the levee into Upper Bidwell Park. With a nod to [Wayne] Thiebaud, I played with the creaminess of the paint and textures that could be created with bold strokes.” The composition exudes a calm reverence for simplicity—with a plain-yet-evocative presentation of blue sky, peaceful looking clouds, ochre fields and the darkly distant hills of our local landscape.
Representing the more abstract side of the collection is Christine Evans’ large-scaled “A View with a Room, 20-20” (a nearly 4-by-6-foot oil, oil pastel and wax piece). In the accompanying note, she suggests that her “paintings work like jazz, stirring feelings without narration.” Seen onscreen, it is a lovely composition of multicolored geometric shapes, intersecting, overlapping and inviting participation in much the way that a musical performance might.
With landscapes, figure drawings and various abstract works, the members transport the homebound viewer as Chico Art Center brings these varied aesthetic expressions and a little of the world’s color into our private chambers.